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From the Field: The Challenges of Landscape Design in Coastal South Florida

By Ebru Ozer, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture, College of Architecture + The Arts, Florida International University

Coastal South Florida is a harsh environment for plants and hardscape materials utilized in landscape design. The daily assault of salty air and intense sun can impair many landscape materials in a short period of time. Floods, tropical storms, hurricanes, and storm surges seasonally striking the region also threaten the longevity of designed landscapes and their overall performance. Landscape architects practicing in the region must choose their planting and materials palette wisely and also utilize proper techniques to ensure durability and the long-term survival of their designs.

This harsh coastal environment is common to all three projects we have been studying through LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) this summer: 1100 Block Streetscape of Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, and Pompano Beach Streetscape and Sand Dune Enhancement in Pompano Beach. Studying these projects gave us the opportunity to learn about the challenging design aspects of our local environment and also gain insight into techniques utilized by our local landscape architecture firms. It has been a great educational experience for all of us and has increased our admiration for the designs.

Relying on native coastal vegetation was a clear and correct decision in all three projects. The use of native vegetation has lowered the costs of maintenance and irrigation on all of the projects that we examined. These landscapes are able to withstand the severe coastal conditions and will be more likely to bounce back after storms and hurricanes. Additionally, the reliance on natives has provided opportunities for wildlife to thrive in the city. We are looking to quantify this benefit through our analysis.

One of our projects, the 1100 Block Streetscape of Lincoln Road Mall, not only dealt with the local coastal issues but also had to contend with a heavily urban environment, which can be difficult in its own right. The design included the installation of 30-40 foot native canopy trees (live oaks and bald cypresses) transplanted to the site. Providing shade was a crucial component of the success of this active public plaza. Installing mature trees immediately was important for creating a usable space. The reliance on native species has likely played a major role in the trees’ survival and adaptation to the new environment. Quantifying how users have benefited from the shade provided by the large trees is also a part of our study.

We are looking forward to sharing the final results of our CSI research in the near future.

Research Fellow Ebru Ozer and student Research Assistants Vanessa Alvarado and Greg Gonzalez are participating in LAF’s 2014 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program and working to document the performance of three exemplary landscape projects in coastal South Florida. Any opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. Their inclusion in this article does not reflect endorsement by LAF.

LAF is grateful to the many individuals and organizations that provide financial support towards fulfilling our mission to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment.

Much of what LAF is able to accomplish would not be possible without the thought leadership and financial investment of our major supporters, including ASLA, which provides over $125,000 of in-kind support annually.